Ligaz11 Review of Ken Uston on Blackjack

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Ken Uston is, without a doubt, one of the most successful and colorful Blackjack players of all time. His knowledge of the game, creativity in the cause of beating the casinos, and his clarity in writing about it are legendary, and for good reason. This book covers the period in his career from early 1984 until the middle of 1986. (Million Dollar Blackjack covers from 1974 until the end of 1979, One-Third of a Shoe covers the period at the beginning of 1979 when Atlantic City Casinos weren’t allowed to bar card counters, Ken Uston’s Newsletters on Blackjack cover from the beginning of 1979 through the end of 1981.)


This is the real-life adventure of a high ligaz11 stakes card counter at the tables of Las Vegas and in the courtrooms of Nevada. With his card counting team he does battle with the casinos trying to win money at the tables while he and his legal team do battle with the casinos in the court rooms for the right to play. The book jumps back and forth between these two battles chronologically giving us a sense of Uston’s life during this period. We get to experience his victories and defeats in both arenas along with him.


The reader won’t learn much about improving their Blackjack skills, although some of the discussions of team play and the card counter’s “act” are useful. The book is mainly a diary of the events of the time, which were key in the history of card counting.


Blackjack players’ opinions are split about whether Uston’s court efforts helped or hurt card counting, but there’s no dispute that he joined the battle with a zest and his recounting of it is both informative and enjoyable. His clear writing style again gives us an unclouded look at the his life and experiences at the time. Uston is one of the best writers the game of Blackjack has ever had. This book is another fine example of his work.



This book may not make you a much better Blackjack player, but it is highly informative and entertaining. Uston chronicles exciting stories of his team’s efforts at the Blackjack tables and describes the key events in his attempts to prevent casinos from barring card counters. If you enjoyed The Big Player or One-Third of a Shoe you’ll really enjoy this. Strongly recommended if you enjoy reading about card counting exploits.


I’m a bit of a sucker for gambling books. A few weeks ago, I saw one I didn’t own, the very one I’m reviewing here, I saw that it was marked down to $9.95 from $16.95, and figured, “What the heck, I’ll give it a shot.” Often I find a diamond in the rough. Sometimes I don’t.


This book is essentially a collection of columns written by Bill “Bulldog” Sykes for Card Player back when it just started out, in the fall of 1988. Sykes was one of the original columnists, and he has reprinted in book form “the best of” his columns from those early years. There are 60 essays here covering topics ranging from compulsive gambling to misbehavior by poker professionals. The essays are witty, short and to the point. Interspersed between them, Sykes prints quotes from gambling legends such as Benny Binion and “Amarillo Slim” Preston.


Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy this work. Honestly, I didn’t even enjoy it a little. Oh, okay, I guess I did enjoy some of the quotes, Benny Binion was a fascinating man, but that’s about it. The essays are ostensibly about poker, although I didn’t learn anything about the game. They’re obviously meant to entertain, although the jokes are well worn, and the topics range from the banal to the mildly offensive. They’re not even controversial, coming out against bad manners and for well lit cardrooms just doesn’t seem worth the time and ink it takes to record.


The first third of the essays seem overloaded with Sykes complaining about being told “bad beat” stories. While it’s true that these stories get tiresome, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’d much rather hear bad beat stories than anyone whine about hearing too many of them. There are a couple of essays in the middle that aren’t too bad, although Caro, Malmuth, and Sklansky have all done a better job of covering this ground. The last few essays drop in quality again.


Early in the book, Sykes promises all his essays will be about poker. If they all are, though, I can’t find the connection. In one essay he goes so far as to complain, “… where in heck was that Koop fellow when they were advertising, “Move up to Marlboro country,…”.” What kind of cave does one have to be living in to make this news to anyone living between 1988 and 1992?


To be fair, this, and many other passages, could very well have been intended tongue-in-cheek, but this passage (and essay and, in my opinion, book) doesn’t work straight or as a joke, and quite honestly, I can’t tell when he’s representing his honest opinions and when he’s joking. There’s nothing new here, nothing at all. If this is the best of his work, though, I’m not sorry I missed the rest.


I suppose if you have to have every book that is remotely associated with poker on your bookshelves, nothing I say will stop you from picking up Poker! (Las Vegas Style), but don’t say I didn’t advise against it.



The essays in this collection range from banal to mediocre. Unfortunately, the author has nothing to add to the collective poker wit or wisdom. Additionally, his style is awkward at best. I can’t recommend this book at any price.





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